In the 62 years since he was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther has had a number of writers and artists writers and artists each leave their imprint on the world of Wakanda. The latest to get their chance to add to the character’s rich legacy is Evan Narcisse, who is currently telling the story of T’Challa’s early years as King of Wakanda in Rise Of The Black Panther with artists Paul Renaud and Javier Pina. Ahead of the release of Black Panther’s highly anticipated movie we quizzed him on his introduction to T’Challa, some of his favourite Black Panther comics, and more.
Your comic is a great jumping off point for people wanting to learn more about Black Panther. What was your introduction into T’Challa’s world?
The first time I can remember encountering T’Challa was in Avengers #65. It had Doctor Strange and they travelled to Asgard. It also had the Black Knight. He just struck me as this sleek, exotic figure compared to the other characters. His speech pattern. His hidden kingdom of Wakanda, the fact that he has scientists… all of that was my first encounter with him. Africa is really cool. The other comics starring black characters at that time were Luke Cage and Black Lightning, more ghetto-centric and more about fighting crime. T’Challa was really refreshing for me in that regard. Something about him being from a foreign country, and me being a child of immigrants was a lot more resonant.
Few comic book writers have left their mark on Black Panther quite like Christopher Priest did in the late 90’s, and I know you’re a big fan of it. Is there any particular issue which stands out to you?
Probably issue #30 from that run. It shows Steve Rogers fighting T’Chaka. I kind of reimagined that scenario in Rise Of The Black Panther #1. It’s basically the culmination of some character dynamics. Everett K. Ross was the viewpoint character. He basically has to go in front of a congressional hearing with T’Challa and answer for all the geo-political hijinks that have happened. And Ross says we don’t know anything about these people, about this man. We’ve been working on assumptions this whole time.
Another one of my favourite scenes is when Priest wrote T’Challa talking to Steve Rogers, and him realising that Cap met his Dad. Captain America says “you’re one of the most noble men I’ve ever met” and T’Challa says “Nonsense. I am merely a reflection of he who sent me. The great King T’Chaka”. I love that line because he’s a grown man and a master strategist, but at his core he’s a son who’s trying to live up to his father’s legacy and his forefather’s legacy. I love that about Priest’s run and about the character as a whole.
Then there’s Who Is The Black Panther? by Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr. That comic has Black Panther meeting Captain America, as does the first issue of your comic. What impact did that have on you when you first read it and did you take any inspiration when you were writing your own?
It’s funny because Hudlin wrote that story twice – Who is the Black Panther in 2005, and then a miniseries that stretched out that whole encounter in Captain America/Black Panther: Flags Of Our Fathers. Over the course of five years, we got the idea that a meeting between Steve Rogers and a Black Panther ancestor was now part of the canon. At each turn it’s been clear that Cap got his ass whooped and that somehow Vibranium makes it out of Wakanda. We talk about Steve Rogers being the height of the ideals that America is supposed to embody, and it’s cool that he’s the one white guy Black Panther trusts.
I know that you’re also a big fan of Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers, which takes T’Challa in some really interesting directions…
New Avengers is one of my favourite ever depictions of T’Challa. We see all the stuff that makes him a singular character. He’s haunted by the legacy of leadership he’s inherited. He’s haunted by how he’s failed because at that point, Wakanda has been destroyed by Namor as the result of the Avengers vs. X-Men storyline. So when it starts, he’s in a low place and it gets lower. My story happens before all that so it’s weird to say New Avengers informed my writing. But one of the things I’m doing with my Black Panther comic is I’m trying to synthesise an understanding of T’Challa that folds in all this stuff. I want him to be the strategist who’s been trained to think ahead of his enemies. That goes back to his first appearance in Kirby. I want him to feel compassion and be philosophical, which goes back to Don McGregor’s work. One thing that Ta-Nahesi Coates has done so well with his book is that T’Challa enjoys being a speaker. He’s aware of his status as a symbol, internally and externally, so I want to pull all those things together.
I’m sure you caught some if not all the comic book references in the Black Panther movie. Is there anything the movie did that you’d have liked to have come up with?
The first time we heard the line “Wakanda Forever!” in the trailer, I was like “shit, I wish I thought of that!” [laughs] Those two words are so perfect and they tell us about the ethos of the country and the character. We have to preserve this. If we don’t find that ideal, then everything falls apart.
What does it mean to you to be able to write Black Panther in the midst of the character’s cultural moment?
It’s everything. In a way I feel like T’Challa, because I’ve followed the footsteps of creators who I’ve loved. Don McGregor, Jimmy Graham, my idol Christopher Priest, and of course Ta-Nehesi Coates, whose writing is amazing. I’m very cognizant that there’s a legacy behind me that I better not fuck up [laughs], and now the eyes of the world are on this character in a way that they’ve never been before. That’s really humbling, but mostly exciting. I feel good about the stuff I’ve put out so far, the reception has been largely positive, and I’m feeling good about the stuff coming up. I feel like T’Challa’s a fascinating, complex character who’s maybe a little flawed but also very cool, and my goal for the series is for people to feel the same way about him as I do.
The first 2 issues of Evan Narcisse’s Rise of the Black Panther are available now.
Black Panther is now playing in UK cinemas. Read our review here.